Tuesday 9 October 2007

Unbundling Windows and the so-called "Windows Tax"

This post comes with a bit of rancour, as a small business owner and small business support professional, so please keep that in mind as you read!

We have a wireless setup at home so I can connect to the Internet via my Windows Mobile device and "unwind" by catching up on some industry news.

Last night, an article on Slashdot caught my eye: Countering the Arguments Against Unbundling Windows. So, I clicked through to the original article by Con Zymaris: Why the Unbundling Windows Sceptics are Wrong.

I have seen a lot of content and fluff over the so-called anti-competitive practices of Microsoft, as I am sure that you have, and this one really takes the cake. It truly represents the experience of vitriol those of us who support Microsoft products can face from the "Linux Camp".

What it boils down to, for me, is what is best for the end user?

Keep in mind that we are talking about Joe and Jane User that know how to turn their machine on, click on links, read their email, write a note or letter in a word processor, and hopefully manage their anti-virus and anti-malware software by renewing their subscriptions.

Then there is Frank and Janice AdvancedUser. They know the above, but can utilize the software they use at work with efficiency, and may work with the likes of wiki, social and blog sites. They may even know what a CPU is and how more RAM helps their computer perform faster.

The above two groups of users probably comprise a huge, huge, chunk of the installed Windows User Base.

For those of us who have first hand contact with clients and their users on a day to day basis, we get it. We understand the kinds of pain points that our user base goes through when things change in the technology world. This is especially true if we have been working directly with users for years across many versions of Windows.

Technology change on both the hardware and software platforms is even more relevant for us small I.T. support shops. We know those pain points because we have to live, breath, and work our way through them all the while holding our client's hands.

So, if Con Zymaris got his wish, and Microsoft was forced into placing some sort of DVD/CD in the box with every new system sold, that is no OS was originally installed by the system manufacturer, how would our users, and us in turn, be affected by that change?
  • Increases in hardware costs due to the need to restructure manufacturing and distribution of systems.
  • How would manufacturers choose which Linux Distro to support with their drivers?
  • Increase to the small business purchasing the system as they will then have to install the OS, applications, updates, and security utilities.
  • End user support needs will increase. This is especially true for the Joe and Jane User group.
  • Who will Joe and Jane, or Frank and Janice turn to if the OS install fails or they do not know what broke?
  • There is no visible Certified Linux Professional that one can turn to when in need.
  • How many times has Microsoft broken up and "struck out on their own". What would this do for end users if the "Linux flavour of the day" no longer existed?
There are so many underlying assumptions that are seemingly overlooked in Con's article.

There is a claim that preinstalled software costs consumers $10 billion per year. Okay Con, how much will small business owners around the world have to pay their I.T. support people to install every single one of their systems out of the box?

Well, let us take the number of small businesses in Canada according to the Government of Canada: 2,311,337.

Okay, so, let's say that we arbitrarily take 750,000 of those businesses as having at least 5 PCs. Given our experience with the SMB environment, that would probably be a conservative number relative to our SMB experiences in Alberta.
  • 750,000 X 5 = 3.75 million PCs.
  • Assume 3 hours at $75/hr to setup the system start to finish: 3.75m X $225 = $843.75 million (A conservative number even with imaging).
Now, Canada represents about 10% of the population of the United States, so the above number could safely be multiplied by 10 to reach $8.44 BILLION.

So, we have seemingly reached that theoretical $10 Billion mark mentioned in Con's article in Canada and the United States alone. So, where does that leave the rest of the world?

Yes, these numbers are theoretical, completely arbitrary, and pulled out of thin air. But, just how far off are they? In all reality, the costs to our Small Business Owner Clients will be way higher.

And Con, there is no escape clause: "Well,they would do it themselves". That "do it themselves" costs the business owner or on-staff Geek time. In business, time costs money and lots of it. Every minute that person spends on setting up that new computer is time they are not generating revenue for the company.

And finally, the line about half way down the article that really got me:
But Dell (and others) aren't selling as many Linux boxes as they're selling Windows boxes. Doesn't that mean that there's less market for desktop Linux?

Yes, for now. But the market for alternatives to Windows will never be given a chance unless competition regulators force [emphasis mine] that market to be open and free to competition.
Wow. All I can say is, "Wow". How can one "force" a market to be "free"?

Linux has been given its day. We in the industry have seen that, worked with it, and competed against it. We now know that there are excellent niche markets for Linux and the *BSDs where the value they represent is excellent. It is called ROI, and Linux/*BSD has its place for those returns.

However, in the consumer market, business desktop market, Small Business Server market, and Medium Business Server (Centro) market we have won the ROI and TCO race hands down.

There is just no equivalent Linux product offering that is so comprehensive in streamlining a business' productivity technologies out there. And, there is no Microsoft Small Business Specialist equivalent to help design, implement, service, and support those solutions either.

Passion about a particular product, or products, does not equate to product marketability for the business owner and their end users. The ability to turn the hardware product on, work with the software products to accomplish their tasks, and find someone professional or professionals to support those products does.

For the small to medium business owner, technology facilitating their being productive has a direct impact on their livelihood! It just has to work. Period.

An example from David Moisan's Blog: Why SATV doesn't use Linux. Herein we have an excellent perspective on why Linux has its niche.

UPDATE 2007-10-19: An excellent article from Steve Hodson: Eye Candy won't help Linux expressing his experiences as a new user to Ubuntu and some of his pain points within those experiences.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.


Anonymous said...

A few questions.

You say "End user support needs will increase. This is especially true for the Joe and Jane User group."

Where's your evidence?

Also, you say "Who will Joe and Jane, or Frank and Janice turn to if the OS install fails or they do not know what broke?"

Who do they turn to when they use Windows?

Philip Elder Cluster MVP said...


My evidence is in my experience since the early 1990s.

Joe and Jane have probably purchased at least two, or possibly three PCs in the last 10 years. They are used to pulling it out of the box, plugging it in, turning it on, and it works.

They may have a kid or friend that would help them.

If they get their box and there is no OS on the machine at all, they would be helpless.

Besides which OS to install, how would they know that they needed to protect their system with a firewall or antivirus? Where would that info come from and how would they go about choosing the right product for them? How would they know what programs are needed to accomplish what tasks like word processing?

The above questions are just some of the ones we need to ask ourselves. We need to be very careful about the assumptions we make when speaking about the hardware, OS, and applications on the system. We cannot assume that the end user sees things the way we do.

This group requires a lot of handholding. They do not necessarily RTM. They do not WANT to know what is going on in the box. They just want it to work.

The main thing is: Introducing something new to Joe and Jane is quite traumatic for them. Having to depend on someone to help them is not always an option. I don't know how many times I have heard, "my son/daughter is sick and tired of helping me" or "I can't seem to get in touch with soandso anymore" or "they clicked so fast I couldn't keep up".

In my experience, when things break, they may have someone they can turn to. If that doesn't work, they have a number of professionals they can turn to in any city.

That is one of the benefits of having the Microsoft certification and Microsoft Small Business Specialist designations. We are there for them.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I've just read the paper, and at no stage does the author suggest that users be prevented from installing the Windows which is shipped with the PC. The key point is that the Windows should be shipped as a 'recovery'/imaging style DVD, which the user can insert into the drive and have the PC ready in 10 or so minutes.

The important difference is that the user will have to acquire a licence key to use Windows, just like they presently have to undergo a product activation process, but obviously with payment to Microsoft for the OEM licence.

I see nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, it seems quite fair and reasonable and allows competitor operating systems, like Linux, some room to acquire users.

Anonymous said...


for your information, over 150,000 people have sat the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) exam. And from my industry experience, that's only a small portion of the Linux professionals out there in the field.

More here:


And that doesn't include the tens of thousands of Red Hat Certified Engineers or Novell Linux professionals.

Philip Elder Cluster MVP said...

A (8:46 AM),

Again, what I am trying to do is point things out from the user's perspective.

Yes, from our perspective, it is an option to ship the OSs in that manner and leave the choice to the end user. But, IMNSHO, not from the user's perspective. It would be too huge of a pain point.

Ultimately, we are in a market driven setup. If there was a market for Linux for end users that are not keen on OSs, then perhaps we would see the Tier 1 product lines augmented and volumes increase. Since PCs with Linux installed are relatively new, only time will tell if there really is a market for Linux driven systems at the Joe and Jane level.

A (11:20 PM),

Yes, there are standards and certifications appearing on the market for Linux. Without a doubt.

Again, it comes down to the user and the user's ability to find information and make decisions based on their experience. This is where the pain points start.